NPR

Loretta Lynn's Full Life

In 1960, while leaning up against an old toilet, country star Loretta Lynn wrote her first song, "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl," in just 20 minutes on a $17 guitar her husband had bought her as an anniversary present.

At the time, Lynn was 24. She had been married for 11 years and already had four children. (She would later have two more.)

"I just sat down with my guitar," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I was outside and leaning up against the toilet in Washington State. And I sat there and wrote 'Honky Tonk Girl' and 'Whispering Sea.' "

The country star, now 76, went on to accumulate 16 No. 1 country singles and numerous honors over the course of her career. She's the subject of a new tribute album, Coal Miner's Daughter, which features tracks from The White Stripes, Kid Rock and Martina McBride, among others who sing her tunes about heartbreak and strife.

Lynn didn't sing much before she started performing to make ends meet in Washington State and later in Nashville, Tenn. She grew up in Butcher Holler, Ky., the second of eight children in a coal-mining family.

"When I was growing up with my sisters and brothers, we all sang and rocked the babies to sleep, but that was as far as we ever did," she says.

Lynn's life before she started recording, she says, wasn't easy. She had four children and a husband at home, and worked every day to pay their rent.

"Me and my husband both worked. I took care of a farmhouse, cleaned and cooked for 36 ranch hands before I started singing," she says. "So singing was easy. I thought 'Gee whiz, this is an easy job.' "

After recording "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl," Lynn received a contract with Decca Records and appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, which cemented her role as one of the most successful female singers of the 1960s. By that point, Lynn says, any stage fright she may have had faded away.

"I just sang up there with my guitar, just like I was doing it at home," she says. "I never thought about it being the Grand Ole Opry, because if I had, I never would've done it. You just pretty well gotta figure, well, this is something I could do every day."

Lynn's song "Don't Come Home A'Drinking (With Lovin' on Your Mind)" reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 1967. The hits "You've Just Stepped In (From Stepping Out on Me)" and "Woman of the World (Leave My World Alone)" followed.

After her song "Coal Miner's Daughter" came out in 1970, Lynn wrote a bestselling autobiography with the same name, which led to the Academy Award-winning movie starring Sissy Spacek in 1980.

Lynn was named "Entertainer of the Year" by the Country Music Association in 1972, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988. In 2010, she was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She has been inducted into more music halls of fame than any other female recording artist.


Interview Highlights

On Her Song 'Don't Come Home A'Drinking (With Lovin' On Your Mind)'

"If a man drinks, he's gonna come home drinking. [Doo, Lynn's late husband] liked to drink."

On Her Mentor, Patsy Cline

"She taught me a lot about how to dress. She told me to get out of the jeans. 'Course, I'd wear them till we got to the radio station and then I'd get in the backseat and put on my dress. And I'd take the dress off and go back into my jeans and go to the next radio station."

On Her Song 'The Pill'

"I sure didn't like it when I got pregnant a few times. It's hard for a woman to have so many kids. And at the time, I guess I had four. And then I got pregnant and had the twins. But I was a little angry. ... If I'd had [the pill] I would have used it. 'Cause back when I was having all the kids, we didn't have birth-control pills. Or if we did, I didn't know anything about them."

On Her Husband Doo's Death In 1996

"I miss him so much. He kind of kept things going, like me recording. He'd always tell me how good I was, and that always helped a lot. He would say, 'You know, we need to get a new record out,' or whatever. He always kept me moving. And if it hadn't been for him, I wouldn't have been singing, period. Because he thought I could sing and he put me to work."

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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Loretta Lynn, recorded her first single 50 years ago. It was a song she wrote, called "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl." This year, she was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Lynn is famous for her singing and songwriting. She's had 16 number one country hits, and she's also famous for her life story, which was told in the 1980 film "Coal Miner's Daughter," starring Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn. The film was adapted from Lynn's 1976 memoir, "Coal Miner's Daughter," which described how she grew up in poverty in eastern Kentucky, became a wife at age 13, and after having four children, started writing songs and performing. A new edition of that memoir was published in September, with a new preface by Lynn.

And there's a new tribute CD that features her songs recorded by the White Stripes, Steve Earle, Allison Moorer, Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Alan Jackson and others. Lynn joined Sheryl Crow and Miranda Lambert in a version of Lynn's song "Coal Miner's Daughter."

Let's start with Loretta Lynn's first recording, "Honky Tonk Girl," and then we'll hear the version on the tribute album, performed by Lee Ann Womack.

(Soundbite of song, "Honky Tonk Girl")

Ms. LORETTA LYNN (Musician): (Singing) Ever since you left me, I've done nothing but wrong. Many nights I've laid awake and cried. We once were happy, my heart was in a whirl, but now I'm a honky tonk girl.

Ms. LEE ANN WOMACK (Musician): (Singing) So turn that Jukebox way up high, and fill my glass up while I cry. I've lost everything in this world, and now I'm a honky tonk girl.

GROSS: So we heard Loretta Lynn singing her song "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl," and then Lee Ann Womack from the new Loretta Lynn tribute, "Coal Miner's Daughter."

Loretta Lynn, what a great pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you so much for coming.

Ms. LYNN: Thank you, Terry. It's really nice to be on your show.

GROSS: Now, did you pick the performers on the new tribute CD, and did you talk with them at all about the songs?

Ms. LYNN: No, I didn't talk to them. I just told them - my manager who I would like to have on the - you know, the record. And the next thing I knew, they were here, and we did the album.

We had a good time. Me and Sheryl Crow and Miranda Lambert did the video down at my house, and we worked there all day long. So we had a good time.

GROSS: Now, the song we just heard, that's the first song you wrote. It was your first record, released in 1960.

Ms. LYNN: Right.

GROSS: You say you wrote it in 20 minutes on a $17 guitar that your husband bought for you.

Ms. LYNN: That's true.

GROSS: Because he thought you sang well. And you wrote a song because he told you to. Do you think you ever would have written or performed if your husband didn't say that's what you should do?

Ms. LYNN: No, I wouldn't have because I was too bashful. I wouldn't get out in front of people. I wouldn't you know, I was really bashful, and I would've never sang in front of anybody.

GROSS: So when you wrote "Honky Tonk Girl" with absolutely no songwriting experience, how did you approach writing a song?

Ms. LYNN: You know, I just sat down with my guitar. It was outside. In fact, I was leaning up against the old toilet out there on the West Coast, in Washington state. And...

GROSS: Did you say the toilet?

Ms. LYNN: The old toilet, yeah.

GROSS: Okay.

Ms. LYNN: And I sat there and wrote "Honky Tonk Girl" and "Whispering Sea."

GROSS: So what made you think of the story that you tell in "Honky Tonk Girl"?

Ms. LYNN: Well, I think I probably listened to a bunch of people - you know, their songs and stuff. And I figured, well, I can if they can write, I can, too. So just said, hey, I'm going to tell a story. And that's what I did.

GROSS: And had you hung out at honky tonks, or did you know them from songs?

Ms. LYNN: No, when I first started writing, my husband got me a job at this little bar. And me and a steel player and my brother, he played the fiddle and sang. So we sang together. And so we really had a good time, you know, and I wrote "Honky Tonk Girl" and "Whispering Sea" during that time.

GROSS: So you were doing some performing?

Ms. LYNN: Yeah, I just had started. In fact, I had never sang in front of anybody until my husband pushed me out there, you know. I'd never been out and sang for anybody.

GROSS: But at home, you sang.

Ms. LYNN: I rocked the babies to sleep. And in Kentucky, when I was growing up with my sisters and brothers, we all sang and rocked the babies to sleep, you know. But that was about as far as we ever did, you know.

GROSS: So when you recorded your first single, "Honky Tonk Girl," you were 24. You'd already been married for 11 years because you got married when you were 13. And you already had four children. Do I have that right?

Ms. LYNN: I had four kids, uh-huh.

GROSS: And the twins came a little bit later.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah, the twins come later.

GROSS: What was your life like, as a wife and mother, before you started recording?

Ms. LYNN: It wasn't easy. Me and my husband both worked. I took care of the farmhouse. I cleaned and cooked for 36 ranch hands and...

GROSS: Wow.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah, before I started singing. And so singing was easy. I thought: Gee whiz, this is an easy job.

GROSS: Wait, so you cooked and cleaned for 36 ranch hands, and had four children?

Ms. LYNN: Uh-huh, sure did. Paid the rent on the old house that we lived in, and that's what I did to make the rent, yeah.

GROSS: Wow.

Ms. LYNN: It wasn't easy, let me tell you. Life was hard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So when you made your first appearance on the Opry, which was the same year that you recorded "Honky Tonk Girl," you weren't used to performing on such a prestigious stage in front of an audience like that.

Ms. LYNN: Oh, no.

GROSS: Did you know how to perform onstage in a place like the Opry?

Ms. LYNN: Not really. I just got out there with my guitar, and I sang. I mean, I just did it just like I was doing it at home, you know. I never thought about it being the Grand Ole Opry because if I had, I wouldn't have been able to have done it. You just pretty well got to figure, well, you know, this is something I could do every day.

GROSS: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It's so much like what you do every day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: My guest is Loretta Lynn, and there's a new Loretta Lynn tribute CD, called "Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn." And it features, among others, the White Stripes, Carrie Underwood, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and Allison Moorer.

So the next song we're going to hear is a song that you first recorded in 1966, "Don't Come Home A-Drinking (With Lovin' On Your Mind)." And this is a great song. Gretchen Wilson sings it on the tribute CD.

We're going to hear your version. But first, I want to hear the story of how you wrote it. You'd already had about six years of songwriting experience behind you. You probably were no longer leaning against the toilet when you wrote this.

Ms. LYNN: I was probably Doo had fixed me a little writing room at this time, out in Goodliesfield(ph).

GROSS: Doo is your husband - was your late husband, yes.

Ms. LYNN: Doo was my husband, yes. And he's the only one I've ever had. And so he fixed me this little writing room. And I'd go out there, and I'd write. And this was one of the songs that I wrote - was "Don't Come Home A'Drinking (With Lovin' On Your Mind)."

GROSS: And at this point, did you feel like, I know how to write a song?

Ms. LYNN: Oh, yeah. When I wrote "Don't Come Home A-Drinking," I knew I could write because I'd had quite a few on the charts by that time.

GROSS: Now, you've said that your husband is in every song that you've written, in a large way or in a small way.

Ms. LYNN: Still is. I mean, if I write a song, he's in there somewhere.

GROSS: Were you thinking of him when you wrote this song?

Ms. LYNN: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Would he come home after drinking like that?

Ms. LYNN: Why, sure. If a man drinks, he's going to come home drinking. He liked to drink.

GROSS: Was this song intended to send him a message at all?

Ms. LYNN: Not really. I probably told him many times. I didn't have to sing about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay. Well, let's hear the song.

Ms. LYNN: All right.

GROSS: This is "Don't Come Home A-Drinking," recorded in 1966 by Loretta Lynn, and it was a number one country music chart hit.

(Soundbite of song, "Don't Come Home A-Drinking (With Loving On Your Mind)")

Ms. LYNN: (Singing) Well, you thought I'd be waiting up when you came home last night. You'd been out with all the boys, and you ended up half-tied. But liquor and love, they just don't mix; leave the bottle or me behind, and don't come home a-drinking with loving on your mind.

No, don't come home a-drinking with loving on your mind. Just stay out there on the town and see what you can find 'cause if you want that kind of love, well you don't need none of mine. So don't come home a-drinking with loving on your mind.

GROSS: That was Loretta Lynn, recorded in 1966, and there's a new Loretta Lynn tribute CD. And on that CD, that song is performed by Gretchen Wilson.

And there's also a new edition of Loretta Lynn's famous memoir, which is called "Coal Miner's Daughter." And the new CD is called "Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn."

Now, when you started performing, Patsy Cline was your mentor until she died.

Ms. LYNN: But, you know, she hadn't been in the business that long when I come to Nashville. She'd only been singing two or three years. And yeah...

GROSS: So she must have really related to what you were going through.

Ms. LYNN: Oh, yeah. We talked a lot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What were some of the things that she taught you, that really helped you a lot - things relating to, you know, from clothing to performing style to dealing with the music industry - yeah, go ahead.

Ms. LYNN: Well, she kind of helped me, you know, with the style and everything that I was you know, I was in blue jeans and a T-shirt, or blue jeans and just a Western shirt. And she taught me a lot, how to dress and...

GROSS: What did she tell you about how to dress?

Ms. LYNN: Well, she told me to get out of the jeans, you know. Of course, I would wear them until we'd get to the radio station, and then I'd get in the backseat and put on my dress. And I'd take the dress off and go back into my jeans and wait until the next radio station.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: And then I'd go back into my dress again.

GROSS: And did she give you any advice about performing?

Ms. LYNN: Not really. I think she wanted me to learn that on my own, and I think it's best for every artist to learn on their own what they're going to do on stage, and how they act. And I don't think anybody else can teach you that.

GROSS: My guest is Loretta Lynn. This week, a new tribute album was released, called "Coal Miner's Daughter." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is country music star Loretta Lynn. Her memoir, "Coal Miner's Daughter," was published in a new edition in September. This week, a new tribute album was released, also called "Coal Miner's Daughter."

I want to play another song that you wrote, and this was a song that was, actually, pretty controversial at the time it came out. And it's called "Rated X."

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: And I'm going to let you describe what the song's about.

Ms. LYNN: Well, it's about a woman that's been married and divorced, and I'll just let you listen to it.

GROSS: Okay, and what I want to do, I want to go to the tribute CD. The White Stripes have a really good reworked - like, reinterpreted version of this.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: And I know you've worked with Jack White before. He produced a terrific album of yours in 2004, called "Van Lear Rose."

Ms. LYNN: Right.

GROSS: So do you want to say anything about the White Stripes' version of your song?

Ms. LYNN: Well, I think whatever Jack does is good. I mean, you can't I mean, he's good. You have to love him. So this is good.

GROSS: Okay, so this is the song Loretta Lynn wrote. She recorded it in 1971. It's called "Rated X," and here's the White Stripes from the Loretta Lynn tribute album "Coal Miner's Daughter."

(Soundbite of song, "Rated X")

The WHITE STRIPES (Music Group): (Singing) Well, if you've been a married woman, and things didn't seem to work out, divorce is the key to being loose and free, but you're gonna be talked about.

Everybody knows that you've loved once; they think you'll love again. You can't have a male friend when you're a has-been, on a woman you're rated X.

And if you're rated X, you're some kind of gold that even men turned to silver try to make. But I think it's wrong to judge every picture if a cheap camera makes a mistake.

So if your best friend's husband says to you that you've started lookin' good, you should've known he would, and he would if he could, and he will if you're rated X.

GROSS: That's the White Stripes from the new Loretta Lynn tribute album, "Coal Miner's Daughter," and also Loretta Lynn's famous memoir, "Coal Miner's Daughter," has been published in a new edition.

GROSS: Now, we were talking before about writing from a woman's point of view, which "Rated X" most certainly is - you know, about what it's like to be a divorced woman, when men think that you're available and try to take advantage of you, and you have a reputation. So why was the song controversial?

Ms. LYNN: I think it was because, you know, you've been a married woman. I think when you write about it, they take it to heart, too, you know, they people do. So I think that was it. It just starts out: If you've been a married woman, things didn't seem to work out, divorce is the key to being loose and free. So you're going to be talked about. So that's exactly how it is, you know.

GROSS: When you called it "Rated X" - I mean, do you think some people thought, oh, this is going to be a very provocative, sexy song because it's called "Rated X"?

Ms. LYNN: Oh, yeah. You know, a lot of the disc jockeys, you know, banned it before they even listened to it. And, you know, after it got way up in the charts and - they all flipped the record, started listening to it and playing it. But, you know - another old, dirty record from Loretta Lynn.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Now, something that was even more controversial than "Rated X" was your song "The Pill," which is about...

Ms. LYNN: That's right. The pill was on the way and, you know, we have a lot of them that says it like it is. So that's really, I guess we're not to talk about the way it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: This has some lyrics that I think, you know, really were controversial in some country music circles at the time. And the lyrics include: This old maternity dress I've got is going in the garbage, and you've set this chicken your last time because now I've got the pill. I'm tearing down this brooder house 'cause now I've got the pill.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: So the song sounds autobiographical in some ways. I'm not saying that you are necessarily angry in the way that the character in the song is angry, but you had six children.

Ms. LYNN: I had six kids. I lost three.

GROSS: You lost three?

Ms. LYNN: I lost three.

GROSS: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize that.

Ms. LYNN: I was about five and six well, it wasn't, you know, I lost them before they were born.

GROSS: Oh, so you had six and lost three others? Wow.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: That's a lot of pregnancies.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Right, okay, stating the obvious. Did you share the song's anger?

Ms. LYNN: Well, I sure didn't like it when I got pregnant a few times. You know, it's hard for a woman to have so many kids. And, well, at the time, I guess I had four. And then I got pregnant and had, you know, with the twins. But yeah, I was a little angry.

GROSS: Let's hear it, and this was released in 1975, recorded in 1972. This is Loretta Lynn, "The Pill."

(Soundbite of song, "The Pill")

Ms. LYNN: You wined me and dined me when I was your girl, promised if I'd be your wife, you'd show me the world. But all I've seen of this old world is a bed and a doctor bill. I'm tearin' down your brooder house 'cause now I've got the pill.

All these years I've stayed at home while you had all your fun, and every year that's gone by, another baby's come. There's gonna be some changes made right here on nursery hill. You've set this chicken your last time 'cause now I've got the pill.

This old maternity dress I've got is goin' in the garbage. The clothes I'm wearin' from now on won't take up so much yardage. Miniskirts, hot pants and a few little fancy frills. Yeah, I'm makin' up for all those years since I've got the pill.

GROSS: That's Loretta Lynn, recorded in 1972. It was released in '75. The song is called "The Pill." Now, you've said that you never even used the pill as birth control.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: Well, if I'd had it, I'd have used it. At the time that...

GROSS: I see.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah because, see, back when I was having all the kids, we didn't have birth control pills. Or if they did, I didn't know anything about them.

GROSS: Well, you write that there's a lot you didn't know about, that -you were 13 when you got married in 1947, and you say you didn't...

Ms. LYNN: Didn't know anything about sex, either, did I?

GROSS: No, you say you didn't know anything about sex or even pregnancy. You say when you got pregnant, you didn't even know the word. Is that right?

Ms. LYNN: Well, I don't know. I guess we just called it having a baby. We didn't call it pregnant. Back in Butcher Holler, there was a lot of things we didn't know - a lot of things, they still don't know back there.

GROSS: When I think of you getting married at 13, it just seems so young.

Ms. LYNN: Well, it is. It is way too young, you know.

GROSS: What made you think that you were ready?

Ms. LYNN: Don't ask me. I was 13.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So when you got married, about a year afterwards, you moved to the state of Washington.

Ms. LYNN: Washington state.

GROSS: Far away. Did you feel lost for a while, when you moved away from your family and everything you knew?

Ms. LYNN: Oh yeah. Yeah, Daddy said: He told me he wouldn't take you away where I couldn't see you. And here I was, 3,000 miles away - two months after he married me.

GROSS: Wow, I was thinking what it must have been like for you to be, you know, so far away from home at the age of like, 13, 14, 15, having children already. You probably had no idea you were ever going to become famous.

Ms. LYNN: No, never. And I still don't. I'm not famous.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: I'm just me.

GROSS: Loretta Lynn will be back in the second half of the show. The new Loretta Lynn tribute CD is called "Coal Miner's Daughter," which is also the title of her 1976 memoir, and it was recently published in a new edition. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with country music star Loretta Lynn.

Her life story was made famous in the 1980 film "Coal Miner's Daughter," starring Sissy Spacek as Lynn. The memoir it was based on has been published in a new edition. And this week, a new tribute album was released, also called "Coal Miner's Daughter," which includes performances by the White Stripes, Steve Earle, Allison Moore, Carrie Underwood and Lee Ann Womack.

Well, I want to play another song.

Ms. LYNN: Okay.

GROSS: And this is a song that's covered on the new tribute album, but we'll hear your version. And this is "After the Fire Has Gone." And it's one of the hit duets that you recorded with Conway Twitty. So this song is attributed to L.E. White, a songwriter I'm not familiar with.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah. L.E. White wrote this song. It was one of Conway's writers.

GROSS: Oh I see.

Ms. LYNN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And so they brought the song to you.

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: How did you start recording with Conway Twitty? These duets are so good.

Ms. LYNN: Me and Conway went overseas. There was a whole crew of people went overseas to, you know, perform. And me and Conway started singing in the dressing rooms. So we thought, well, when we get home, we'll sing to Owen Bradley and see what he thinks. So we went home...

GROSS: Owen Bradley was your producer.

Ms. LYNN: Our producer, yeah.

GROSS: And obviously, he liked it.

Ms. LYNN: He loved it. He says, ya'll get in the studio and let's record, so that's what we did.

GROSS: Some of the songs are like, oh, we're so attracted to each other but it's wrong so we really shouldn't, and then...

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And this one is "After the Fire Has Gone."

Ms. LYNN: "After the Fire Has Gone."

GROSS: So this was recorded in 1970. It went to number one on the country charts. And..

Ms. LYNN: Yeah, everybody thought me and Conway had a thing going, you know.

GROSS: Oh, oh, but you didn't?

Ms. LYNN: Because of the songs we recorded. But me and Conway were friends. We wasn't lovers.

GROSS: Right. So on the tribute album, on the Loretta Lynn tribute album "Coal Miner's Daughter," this duet is covered by Steve Earle and Allison Moorer - who are, in fact, married. But we're going hear your version with Conway Twitty. So here it is.

Ms. LYNN: Okay.

GROSS: This is Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty.

(Soundbite of song, "After the Fire Has Gone")

Ms. LYNN and Mr. CONWAY TWITTY: (Singing) Love is where you find it.

Ms. LYNN: (Singing) When you find no love at home.

Ms. LYNN and Mr. TWITTY: (Singing) And there's nothing cold as ashes after the fire is gone.

Mr. TWITTY: (Singing) The bottle is almost empty, the clock just now struck 10. Darling, I had to call you to our favorite place again.

Ms. LYNN: (Singing) We know it's wrong for us to meet but the fire's gone out at home.

Ms. LYNN and Mr. TWITTY: (Singing) And there's nothing cold as ashes after the fire is gone. Love is where you find it...

Ms. LYNN: (Singing) ...when you find no love at home.

Ms. LYNN and Mr. TWITTY: (Singing) And there's nothing cold as ashes after the fire is gone.

GROSS: That's Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, recorded in 1970, a song that went to number one on the country charts. And that song is covered by Steve Earle and Allison Moorer on the new Loretta Lynn tribute CD, "Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn."

Now, there's one kind of song you've written that I haven't asked you about, and that is the I-am-so-angry-you-better-be-careful-'cause-if-you-take-my-man-I-will-actually-hit-you kind of song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: Is that "Fist City"?

GROSS: I'm thinking of "Fist City," yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: Oh.

GROSS: And it's not exactly a sisterhood-is-powerful kind of song. The lyric is: If you don't want to go to Fist City, you'd better detour around my town...

Ms. LYNN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...or else I'll grab you by the hair of your head, and lift you off the ground.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: So tell me about writing a lyric like this where, I mean, it's like real physical anger.

Ms. LYNN: Well, there was an ol' gal that tried to take Doolittle away from me and...

GROSS: There was somebody who tried that?

Ms. LYNN: Yeah, there was somebody and - but she didn't make it.

GROSS: Did you threaten her?

Ms. LYNN: Yes, I did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: With more than a song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And not in rhyme.

Ms. LYNN: That's right. It didn't rhyme at all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What did you tell her?

Ms. LYNN: I just told her: Back off; she's playing with the wrong Bill.

GROSS: You know, what's amazing to me - like, why would somebody think that they could compete with you? And also, maybe I'm speaking out of turn here, but like, why would your husband...

Ms. LYNN: Well, that's how - women take your husband away from you all the time, so they all think that, you know?

GROSS: Yeah. Right.

Ms. LYNN: Are you married?

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Ms. LYNN: Oh, Lord...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: He'll kill us. He'll kill us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: Don't let him hear this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: We're okay.

Ms. LYNN: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So was it right after this incident that you sat down and wrote the song?

Ms. LYNN: You know, I don't know exactly when I wrote the song, but I'm pretty sure that I had some things in mind when I wrote it. I won't talk about it.

GROSS: That's fine. But do you think she knew that it was about her?

Ms. LYNN: I just imagine.

GROSS: You imagine that she did?

Ms. LYNN: I imagine she did.

GROSS: Okay.

Ms. LYNN: I probably told her.

GROSS: Oh, nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: Okay. So this is "Fist City." This is Loretta Lynn, one of her many hits.

(Soundbite of song, "Fist City")

Ms. LYNN: (Singing) You've been making your brags around town that you've been a loving my man. But the man I love, when he picks up trash he puts it in a garbage can. And that's what you look like to me, and what I see is a pity. You'd better close your face and stay out of my way if you don't want to go to Fist City.

If you don't want to go to Fist City, you'd better detour around my town 'cause I'll grab you by the hair of the head and I'll lift you off of the ground. I'm not a saying my baby is a saint cause he ain't and that he won't cat around with a kitty. I'm here to tell you, gal, to lay off of my man if you don't want to go to Fist City.

Come on and tell me what you told my friends if you think you're brave enough. And I'll show you what a real woman is since you think you're hot stuff. You'll bite off more than you can chew if you get too cute or witty. You better move your feet if you don't want to eat a meal that's called Fist City. If you don't want to go to Fist City...

GROSS: So that was "Fist City" featuring Loretta Lynn. And I should mention, too, that Loretta Lynn's famous memoir, "Coal Miner's Daughter," has been published in a new edition.

I want to play another song, and this is something more recent than what we've been hearing. This is your collaboration with Jack White. He produced an album of yours in 2004, "Van Lear Rose." How did you meet?

Ms. LYNN: I went to Detroit to work, and Jack White come to see me and, of course, he told me about when he was little - he was about 9 years old. When "Coal Miner's Daughter" come out, he stayed in the theater the whole time, all day long, and watched "Coal Miner's Daughter" over and over and over.

So when he got a chance to work with me, he says - I told him I had to go home because - I said, I've got to hurry because I got to record tomorrow. He says, well, how about me come and being the producer? I said, well, why not? That's how we got together. So he was in Nashville by the time I was, and we recorded. And that's how we started. He lives here in Nashville now.

GROSS: Oh, I didn't realize that.

Ms. LYNN: Oh, yeah, he lives here in Nashville.

GROSS: Oh.

Ms. LYNN: So, yeah.

GROSS: So you're good friends now.

Ms. LYNN: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Oh, great.

Ms. LYNN: We've always been good friends, ever since we did the album.

GROSS: The track I want a play is called "Miss Being Mrs." You wrote all the songs on this album, and this is one of my favorites. I like the song a lot and also, I just love how stripped down it is. It's just you and a guitar. Is that Jack White on guitar?

Ms. LYNN: That's Jack White.

GROSS: Okay. Do you want say anything about writing the song?

Ms. LYNN: Well, you know, I don't like to talk about the way I write songs. I just let people hear them; they will know what I'm talking about.

GROSS: All right. Good enough. So this is Loretta Lynn from the 2004 album "Van Lear Rose," produced by Jack White, who is accompanying her on guitar.

(Soundbite of song, "Miss Being Mrs.")

Ms. LYNN: (Singing) I lie here all alone in my bed of memories. I'm dreaming of your sweet kiss. Oh, how you loved on me. I can almost feel you with me here in this blue moonlight. Oh, I miss being Mrs. tonight.

Like so many other hearts, mine wanted to be free. I've been held here every day since you've been away from me. My reflection in the mirror, it's such a hurtful sight. Oh, I miss being Mrs. tonight.

Oh, I miss being Mrs. tonight. Oh, and how I loved them loving arms that once held me so tight. I took off my wedding band and put it on my right hand. I miss being Mrs. tonight.

GROSS: That's my guest, Loretta Lynn, with Jack White on guitar, from the album "Van Lear Ross," which Jack White produced - of Loretta Lynn's songs -in 2004.

Your husband, who we've spoken a little bit about, died in 1996, and you didn't perform for a while after that. How has your life changed since he's been gone?

Ms. LYNN: Well, not for the better. I mean, I miss him so much, you know? He kind of kept things going, like me recording, and he'd always tell me how good I was, you know. And that always helped a lot. And he would say, you know, we need to get a new record out - or whatever. He always kept me moving. And if it hadn't been for him, I wouldn't have been singing, period. Because he thought I could sing and that's - he put me to work.

GROSS: You know, as - so many people are, I think, kind of baffled a little bit by the relationship, because it seems in some ways to have been a very rocky relationship. And at the same time, you stayed with him throughout...

Ms. LYNN: We had a - I think we had a relationship - we fought one day and we'd love the next, so I mean, that's - to me, that's a good relationship. If you can't fight, if you can't tell each other what you think - why, your relationship ain't much anyway.

GROSS: You don't need him anymore to tell him you're a good singer, right? I mean, you know that, right?

Ms. LYNN: Well, I don't know about that, but I try.

GROSS: So this year was the 50th anniversary of your first single.

Ms. LYNN: Right.

GROSS: This year, you got a Lifetime Achievement Grammy. How much are you performing now?

Ms. LYNN: I'm performing quite a bit. We've been home for two or three weeks. It's been quite a bit of time off for us because we don't usually take that kind of time off. But I work a lot. But I like it. I don't like to sit down. I don't like to not do something.

GROSS: Well, Loretta Lynn, it's really been great to talk with you. Thank you so very much.

Ms. LYNN: It's been nice to talk to you, honey.

GROSS: The new Loretta Lynn tribute CD, "Coal Miner's Daughter," was released this week. Lynn is featured on one track, with Sheryl Crow and Miranda Lambert, singing the title song.

(Soundbite of song, "Coal Miner's Daughter")

Ms. LYNN, Ms. SHERYL CROW AND Ms. MIRANDA LAMBERT: (Singing) Yeah, I'm proud to be a coal miner's daughter. I remember well, the well where I drew water. The work we done was hard at night we'd sleep 'cause we were tired. Never thought of ever leaving Butcher Holler.

Well, a lot of things have changed since way back then, and it's so good to be back home again. Not much left but the floors. Nothing lives here anymore except the memories of a coal miner's daughter, except the memories of a coal miner's daughter.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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